I recently saw a friend promoting a fellow woman’s new comedy album. I slid into her DM’s right away.
“I’m excited to check it out! How is it?”
Then she confessed she hadn’t actually listened to it. This is a pretty amazing development. Women just support each other now? You don’t ask 82 people to make sure it’s okay to ally yourself with this person? Do you mean to tell me you’ve never had a drink thrown on your back by another woman before? Things have changed.
So let’s go back in time. I started comedy in the late 90’s. The Spice Girls roared girl power! Then broke up. There were a ton of prominent women fighting with each other: Linda Tripp & Monica Lewinsky, Nancy Kerrigan & Tonya Harding, meanwhile I’m walking around town reading Amy Fisher’s “My Story.” (It was in paperback by this point, so it was cheaper. Don’t forget books are more expensive in Canada.) It seemed as though all the Blossom and Six friendships had disappeared.
For the most part, I was lucky. A year into doing comedy, Jen Grant entered the Ottawa comedy scene. She not only looked like my sister, but to this day is still like one. Wendi Reed, Andrea Jenson- both so kind and funny as well. There were so few female comedians, we just naturally came together. Andrea had a great joke about how cigarette wrappers could also be used as Barbie police tape. The joke always worked, cuz back then only losers didn’t smoke. Wendi had a joke about how great Jaws is, cuz he eats hot skinny chicks. I always loved watching them.
But then there were other women…
Ones that seemed to have no patience for other female comics.
Howard was always progressive, putting on all women comedy line ups. I didn’t really understand how special they were at the time, but I do now. The shows would get promoted in local papers with a headline like:
(True story. I have the paper somewhere.)
And most of these shows were a positive thing but there were a few…
That made me feel like a piece of shit.
I was officially “split middling” as we called it in the motherland. Me and another comic splitting the time of the middle, or “feature” as Americans call it. The headliner was amazing, having worked on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, and the host was a woman from Toronto. She was confident, did well with the audiences, but made the green room an uncomfortable nightmare. My fellow split middler was new at the time, just like me, but I assure you she’s a monster in Canadian comedy today. Our host was determined to make us uncomfortable before we got on stage.
“Do you have a GUY who loves you?”
Split middle girl:
“Uhhh, my dad.”
It was a good answer, considering the host’s day job was stripping.
She introduced Margaret Smith as “Maggy Smith,” who is actually a different actress altogether, so that didn’t go over well.
I was still pretty new to getting weekend spots, but I was doing well and was feeling good about myself. But this particular weekend threw my confidence in reverse. I got intros like:
(The host on stage, with a worried face.)
“Your next comic coming to the stage…. (sucking in spit) she’s REALLY new to doing stand up, but she tries hard, and she keeps getting better and better every time she gets up here, so I think we should really make her feel like she belongs on the stage. Let’s make some noise for… Christina… Walk….in….shaw?!”
Taking the stage felt like walking through Planned Parenthood. Everybody in the room clearly thought the worst of me. I had friends in the crowd, and after the show they were pissed.
“I did NOT like the way that host brought you on to the stage. It made you sound like a Make A Wish kid.”
It did have that kind of vibe. And that’s not even the worst intro I got back then. Another female comic intro’d me with:
“This next comic coming to the stage could teach me how to lose a pound or two… and I could teach her how to tell a joke. Please welcome to the stage, Christina Walkinshaw.”
You know, “Women Supporting Women” stuff.
At the time you just tell yourself,
“This must just be how comedians treat each other…”
But a dirty part of you thinks,
“The male comics are so much nicer…”
(We’ll find out why later!)
I asked a few friends my age if they had any experiences like this and all two of them did.
“I showcased for a female comic’s talk show and SHE heckled me.”
“I opened for a female comic and had an amazing set. When I came off stage she said, “This crowd must be really dumb.” A few days later I saw her again, and she said, “I broke up with that guy I was dating at the show. He kept saying how funny you were.”
In retrospect, I wonder if the surge of more women in comedy effected some female comics. Maybe it was fun to be the only chick in a boys club. But with more women on the scene, that attention you were used to being solely yours started getting divided. Maybe that annoyed you, or jilted your ego, as it might a male comic. I can admit I loved being the only girl watching Monday night RAW with a bunch of Ottawa stoners. (And just like comedy, more women got into wrestling.)
I’ve never been good at standing up to bullies, or anyone who makes me feel uncomfortable. But once in a while, somebody else stands up to that shitty person, and a smile beams across your face like an old school episode of Desperate Housewives. Like this anecdote:
I wasn’t at this particular show, but I heard about it. That host who rubbed the entire lineup the wrong way was performing back in the Toronto area. She had a bit where she threw a line to the crowd as she played guitar:
“Quick! I need a word that rhymes with fellatio!”
From the back of the room, another comic yells,
“Get off the stage-eeoo!”
That comic was Ian Sirota. Apparently she was a dick to him too. At least she didn’t discriminate. She was mean to all genders. And while I’m sure bullying a bully is not today’s #1 form of problem solving, I can tell you this story still puts a smile on my face. Sorry, but that’s just how we did things in the 90’s.
I’ve always done my best to be supportive of new comics. I never want to make them feel as uncomfortable as some people made me feel. Plus there’s a good chance most of them are gonna pass me success wise anyway. Can’t wait to ask them all for jobs.
I hope all this “women supporting women” culture is real. It could just be a trend some people post in support of, but don’t truly feel. On a dark day, I can’t help but wonder which female comics mock or even hate me… I know that’s blatant insecurity, but guess what?
I keep putting myself out there anyway.
(I shouldn’t write a whole blog about women who were dicks to me then tag it with, “And now here’s a pic of me and Jen Grant!” She’s the best and we’ve been family since the beginning.)